OPINION | EDITORIAL: Libertarians in the spotlight

Libertarians have a good showing

Hide the kids and liquor. Libertarians have been heard from again.

It didn't take long to figure out Arkansas' votes back on Tuesday. Before the night was over, folks here had given six electoral votes to President Trump, approved a permanent road tax, and rejected more restrictions for ballot measures.

Tom Cotton handily won re-election. As everybody knew he would. The Republican senator didn't have a Democratic challenger (or at least didn't have one for long). Democrats around Arkansans are still fuming that their guy signed up and then dropped out a couple hours later.

So folks of a certain political stripe--the stripe that would have liked to have sent Tom Cotton packing--turned their attention to a man who, in a frank acknowledgement, wouldn't have received that much attention if Joshua Mahony had stayed in the race.

The Libertarians across Arkansas are a rowdy bunch. And persistent. Which makes them true Arkansans. Libertarians have to get petitions signed to make it onto the ballot every election, and by golly, they show up year after year.

This year, Ricky Dale Harrington became Sen. Cotton's main opponent. He ran a campaign on a shoestring budget and came up just short of 400,000 votes, according to preliminary numbers. But you also have to acknowledge that he got more than 394,000 votes. That's pretty good for a Libertarian candidate. In any race. Ever.

It's also more votes than former Sen. Mark Pryor got running for re-election when Mr. Cotton first beat him in 2014. Mr. Pryor got 334,174 votes that year, and Libertarian Nathan LaFrance got 17,210. But there's no silver and bronze medals in political campaigns.

Even Libertarians will admit that they aren't exactly mainstream. Yet. (Then again, once upon a time the Republicans weren't a mainstream party, either. Then a man named Lincoln came along.)

Some ideas floated by our Libertarian friends are indeed strange, not to mention unworkable. But America needs them, bless their small(est) government hearts. They pull starboard even when the right leans left. Most of the time.

You see, right and left don't mean much to the average Libertarian. The glue that binds them together is that the government is best that governs least. The very, very least. They can make Republicans look like socialists. (And sometimes even say that.) And they can make Democrats look like arch conservatives.

Their position on the issues? Sometimes on target. Sometimes foolhardy. Like everybody's thoughts.

Legalizing all drugs? Well, we are looking at Oregon this election cycle, and that state has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cocaine and heroin. So the Libertarian position is creeping up on the mainstream. If Oregon can be considered mainstream. Let's hope it's not, and that state doesn't come to regret its position.

On foreign policy, the Libertarians hold the Fortress America position. Which didn't work before Dec. 7, 1941, or before Sept. 11, 2001. But a particular incumbent, sitting president has moved in that direction for a couple of years. So it's catching on again. (Sigh.)

So are Libertarians malcontents, or ahead of public opinion by a few years? Why not both? For the record, malcontents have been making waves in United States politics even before there was a United States. And the country needs Libertarians. When Democrats are anti-choice on education but pro-choice on abortion, and Republicans are pro-government regulation on flag burning but anti-government regulation on gun registration, a body gets a little hungry for consistency.

Arkansas PBS held debates for the congressional candidates this year, and Tom Cotton didn't show up to debate Ricky Dale Harrington. Which made political sense. Tom Cotton is a smart politician.

Nonetheless, Mr. Harrington was there, and had some memorable quotes throughout the night, including:

"If you remember those who disagree with you are still human beings, we don't have to agree on everything. If everyone is thinking alike, then is there really that much thinking going on? Our differences make us stronger."

Every once in a while, the Libertarians are dead-on right. This was another one of those times. His comment reminds us of one of our favorite quotes from our favorite curmudgeon H.L. Mencken:

"What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embracing tolerance--in brief, what is commonly called good sportsmanship. Such a man is not to be mistaken for one who shirks the hard knocks of life. On the contrary, he is frequently an eager gladiator, vastly enjoying opposition. But when he fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest--and perhaps, after all, right."

We'll keep an eye on Mr. Harrington's future campaigns if he chooses to run again. If the Libertarian stirred such a response with chewing gum and duct tape, it'd be fascinating to watch what he could do with some serious resources.

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